November Issue 2015
Art of the Written Word
Many artists have left behind a body of the written word as poets, essayists and writers which is interesting to read as it gives interesting insights into their thought processes and the context of their work. Chughtai’s essays on the times he lived in, and his philosophy as an artist, are invaluable. The writings elaborate on the resurgence of the Islamic identity that was pivotal in establishing him as a prominent Muslim artist in the first quarter of the last century. His contacts included the rich and the powerful from Nepal to Bengal, and Hyderabad Deccan to Lahore, who sought his art for their collections.
The contrast between Nasir Shamsie’s art and his corpus as a playwright and short-story writer could not be more diverse. As a formalist, he made geometry his aesthetic problem and focused on this conundrum for decades; however, for his short stories he sought out human narratives from everyday life. Shakir Ali’s essay on Modernism in Urdu is an important piece of writing; it is an artist’s interpretation of a new idiom that had a tremendous impact on art practices in Pakistan.
Ijazul Hasan chose to take a hiatus from his art to write a book on Pakistan’s art history and continues to write while he paints. Zahoorul Akhlaq penned down his thoughts often, but his writings were never made public. If they do figure in Zahoor’s musings on his study of the Mughal Miniature at Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which he frequented as a student and later at The Met in New York, it would be relevant to his art that engaged with many elements from this school of historical painting.
Sadequain wrote over a 1,000 rubaiyats and not a single artist’s statement, leaving it open to a multiplicity of connections to his art. The collection of rubaiyats, which were first printed in 1970, reveals a man in anguish driven by his personal traumas and the social injustices around him. By this time, his acclaimed Cactus Series had propelled him into the limelight. The parched landscape around Gadani, where he spent time recuperating from ill-health, introduced him to the cactus, a dense plant with curved vertical arms bunched at the base. This massive cactus grew in clusters all over the desert between Karachi and Hyderabad before urbanisation made it near extinct. Sadequain, whose imagination and art embraced the cactus, wrote:
The desert in which I live is full of thorns
I am so connected to all the bushes
I am so doubtful so I searched for myself in the darkness
I am myself or a cactus, what am I
Gazing at the cactus in the sunlight and moonlight, day after day, blurred the reality for the artist and this haunting quality is recalled in the rubaiyae. The contortions of Sadequain’s hands and fingers, ever present in his work, mirror his complicated soul and the myriad variations of the cactus.
But even with his prolific output, both in verse and art, one cannot truly define Sadequain’s persona in its entirety.
The princess of colours did not have a crown on her head
After living in the company of rubaiye for two days
When I reached the studio of painting today
Taking upon myself this obsession
By developing my intimacy with words
I did, by withholding the rights of colours
Sadequain’s decision to return to the canvas in 1970 came at a crucial time and he went on to create some spectacular art in Lahore and Islamabad, before returning to Karachi to work on his last mural .
Recently, one had the rare opportunity to view Sadequain’s illustrated rubaiyats at the city campus of the Institute of Business Administration. Taken on loan from Sadequain’s family, this rare collection showcased the original drawings for the diwan done by the artist on transparent paper.
One source of new knowledge to support critical thinking in art could be the writings of the artists which need to be explored. Building public archives and encouraging research on the work of these extraordinary individuals would go a long way towards achieving this end.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s November 2015 issue.
The writer is an art critic and curator. Her work covers art criticism, art history, curatorial projects, art education and art activism. She has been regularly contributing to national and international journals since 80â€™s.